One morning I walked into the B’nei Ruven Synagogue in Chicago at 7:00 AM for the morning service and took my seat at one of the tables.
One morning I walked into the B’nei Ruven Synagogue in Chicago at 7:00 am for the morning service and took my seat at one of the tables. Shortly thereafter, a distinguished elderly gentleman, accompanied by a young man wearing dark sunglasses, took their places at the table in front of me.
The elderly gentleman put on his tallit, and then turned to me. In perfect English, albeit with a heavy Israeli accent, he told me that today was his mother’s yahrzeit (day of passing) and he had come to the synagogue to say the kaddish for her.
He asked me if I could show him where the mourner’s kaddish could be found in the prayer book and guide him when he would need to recite it.I showed him the place and then asked if he had a pair of Tefillin. When he said that he did not, I offered him a pair and asked if he would put them on. “Betach,” of course, he responded instantly.
The elderly man recited every kaddish until the very last one following Mishnayos. When the prayers were over, as he was unwinding his Tefillin, he turned to me and said, “You seem to be a very nice guy and I want to thank you for your help.” He then continued, “I would like to share with you a story about the Rebbe. However, I would prefer not to tell it to you here in public, but rather in a private room.”
Together we entered an empty classroom in the building. When I asked him for his name, he would not give it to me. I understood that he must be a high-ranking officer in the Israeli army. I was anxious to hear the story he wanted to share. I did not have to wait long, as he began.
“I served as a general in the Israeli Defense Force in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. This was when I was still a young man in my 40’s. My battalion had over 150 Israeli soldiers. One day during the war, we were ambushed and in an instant, I lost 32 of my men. Many more soldiers were injured. This ambush was one of the greatest devastations of the Yom Kippur War. As a general, I am responsible for the dead and wounded soldiers, including their wives, children, parents, and siblings. I worked constantly with the families and loved ones to ease their pain. The suffering of the families affected me on a very deep and personal level. I fell into a deep depression and could not find my way out of it.
“A few months after the war, the US government requested a meeting in Washington with some high-ranking Knesset members and a select few generals. This was to be a highly classified secret meeting. As a general who had witnessed one of the most devastating tragedies of the war, I was asked to join the group as well.
“A few days before we were meant to leave Israel for America, I received a surprise call from my good friend, Reb Shlomo Maidanchik (of blessed memory), a Chabadnik. He said to me, ‘I hear that you are going to be in America in the next few days. Washington is not far from New York. Why don’t you go visit the Rebbe and discuss with him your depression and personal concerns?’
“Till today, I do not know how my good friend Reb Shlomo knew about this highly classified meeting. However, I agreed to meet the Rebbe in Brooklyn after I finished my business in Washington. Reb Shlomo made all the arrangements with the Rebbe’s office for me.On the designated evening, I arrived in Crown Heights, and was ushered into the Rebbe’s room. I spent an hour and a half with the Rebbe. The Rebbe strengthened and encouraged me with words of compassion and kindness. I was truly amazed how the Rebbe was aware of the innermost secrets of the army, things that only a few select high-ranking officers were privy to. At the end of the conversation, I got very personal with the Rebbe in reference to my own internal issues that tormented me. I told the Rebbe about my battalion of 150 soldiers and how we lost 32 in one swift ambush including many who were injured and still recuperating in the hospital.“The Rebbe interjected and said, ‘I don’t want to make your pain and suffering any greater, however, it is not 32 but rather 34.’
“I responded that I know better, since I deal with the soldiers and their families literally on a daily basis. With all due respect, I continued, it was 32 and not 34 as you say. The Rebbe did not flinch. With great pain and heartfelt words, he repeated that unfortunately it is 34. Together we cried throughout the meeting. The Rebbe constantly referred to the soldiers who died as ‘kedosheielyon’ – exalted holy ones.
To be honest, by the end of the meeting with the Rebbe, much of my pain and suffering was relieved. However, I could not understand why the Rebbe insisted about the number of soldiers, when I, as a general living in Israel, surely knew better.
“When I returned to Israel, I was shocked to hear the sad news that two more soldiers who were in the hospital, had succumbed to their wounds. I now realized that the Rebbe was correct. The total number was indeed 34 and not 32…
“A few months later, the same group of high-ranking officers was again summoned to Washington for a continuation of the previous meeting. This time I did not wait for Reb Shlomo to call me. I immediately called him and requested that he arrange for a second meeting with the Rebbe. This time I was very anxious to meet the Rebbe.
“Once again, following the meeting in Washington, I headed to New York for a scheduled yechidut (private audience)with the Rebbe. This meeting continued where the last one had left off, with many new facts and updates of the Israeli army’s internal affairs. Again, the Rebbe cried with me and showed me the greatest love and compassion. The Rebbe showered me with his blessings and prayers for a long and healthy life.
“As the yechidut was coming to a close, I asked the Rebbe the question which had been bothering me. ‘Rebbe, I said, I must apologize to you for my disagreement about the number of soldiers who died. Indeed, you were right, it wasn’t 32 as I said, but rather 34.’ I then asked the Rebbe, ‘But, how did you know this?’
“The Rebbe began tapping on his desk with his index finger while saying the following: ‘Every neshama (soul) that enters this world and every neshama that passes on from this world, passes through this room. That is how I knew.’” By Rabbi Levi Bukiet (as seen in the N’shei Chabad Newsletter Kislev 5778) verified with Rabbi Bukiet